Task Management – Simplified!

Have you ever had this experience? You’re lying in bed, just about to go to sleep, drifting off even, until it hits you.  That thing that you meant to do today?  You forgot.  Suddenly, your brain is on full alert, and you’re promising yourself that you’ll remember to do it tomorrow.  Just like you promised last night.  You lock the task in your memory and then lie there, unable to relax, just hoping that you don’t forget it again tomorrow.

We all face challenges, and managing time and tasks is probably one of the most universal. When you’re juggling work to be completed for clients, business development activities, administrative work, professional development and training, plus personal tasks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you don’t keep a running, written “to do” list.

Chances are, you’re a bright person with a good memory.  You may even rely on your memory more than you really should.  If you’re keeping a running list of things you need to accomplish in your head, not on paper, you’re committing a foundational mistake that will cost you peace of mind — and it may even cost you clients.

The solution?  An easy 3-step process:

  1. Keep a running list of all tasks, both business and personal.  (You’ll need to accomplish all these tasks, so why separate those lists?)  Whenever you think of something you need to do, it goes on the list.  Every.  Single.  Time.
  2. Create a list of weekly “to do” items from your master list.
  3. At the end of each day, draw up a daily “to do” list from your weekly list, supplemented with whatever additions are necessary.

By writing down every task as it arises, you free yourself from the mental “to do” list that will float around the back of your mind, distracting you from what you’re actually doing or, perhaps, chiming in too late to get the task done.  You must train yourself to write everything down.

Create a system for capturing your task list that matches your life. If you do most of your work in a single location, you might create a word processing document or spreadsheet that lists the project (by client name or number, for example), the specific task, the category (client work, administrative, vacation planning, etc.), and the due date.  Be sure you can sort based on each of these so you can know at a glance, for instance, what’s due when or how much work you have to do for each client.

If you frequently travel, you’ll want to look for a more robust solution that will sync with your computer and wireless devices. A few that I’ve used or that clients have recommended:

Finally, since looking for a new “to do” list organizer likely wasn’t on your task list for today, try this handy gadget for marking those web pages for later comparison:  http://getpocket.com/.

When the view never changes…

I took this photo of Oregon Trail ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming.  On this section of the trail, appropriately known as Deep Rut Hill, the route deviated away from the river and went over sandstone hills.  The wagons spread out to minimize dust across much of the trail, but thousands of wagons followed precisely the same path in this area.  The result?  Ruts that are up to five feet deep.

When I visited this spot, I imagined what the scene must have been:  mile after mile of emigrants traveling one after another.  And imagine the view — unless you were lucky enough to be in the lead, all you’d see for several miles would be the wagon in front of you.  Pretty dull, no?

As I imagined that scene, I started to think about “me too” marketing. It’s the safe route:  find the approach that’s worked for someone else and do it yourself.  If your mentor is a “never met a stranger, never ate a meal alone: kind of person, you might try to do the social butterfly act.  If your mentor touts the magic of public speaking as a mode to land new business, you might try that act even if you’d rather be stung by an entire swarm of South American killer bees.  (Remember, many polls show that the fear of public speaking outranks even the fear of death!)  If your mentor believes that a leadership role in an industry organization is the key to success… Well, you get the idea.

But notice the key word here:  ACT. If it isn’t you, if you’re just following someone else’s path, you’re just performing an act.  And let’s face it, most of us aren’t skilled actors.  Instead, we know that we’re playing a role, and others sense that something is off.  The end result is that we’re uncomfortable and usually don’t get good results.  So what’s the answer?

Innovate.  With authenticity.

Figure out your strengths and your interests, and adapt those for business development purposes. If you hate public speaking, don’t do it.  Find something else you do enjoy, figure out how to fit it into your strategic plan, and go to town.  When you innovate and build in activities that you truly enjoy and that build on your abilities, you get to be authentically yourself instead of pretending to be someone else, and you’ll find that potential clients respond much more favorably.

Your assignment:  List your current business development activities and note which match your unique abilities and which put you in the role of imitator. And then, find ways to innovate yet further so your marketing really reflects who you are.  Don’t get stuck staring at the wagon in front of you.